A home-grown Georgia girl came oh-so-close to winning one of the biggest prizes in women’s amateur golf.
Jenny Bae, who grew up in Lawrenceville before going to play golf at the University of Georgia, had her valiant comeback fall just short at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur on Saturday. Bae rallied from a six-shot deficit to force a sudden-death playoff before Rose Zhang, the world’s No. 1 ranked amateur, secured victory on the second extra hole.
Bae and Zhang finished 54 holes tied at 9-under 207. Bae closed with a 2-under 70, the low loop of the 31 golfers in the field and one of only three par-or-better efforts in the final round.
“I’m proud of myself, being able to even get the chance to go to a playoff and possibly win the title,” Bae said. “I’ve worked really hard. I also just want to say thank you to everyone, especially my caddie and my coach (Josh Brewer).
“Honestly, without him, I don’t think I would’ve been able to even come here,” Bae continued. “He played a major factor today. I was really nervous and really tense the first few holes. He was just right there next to me, trying to crack jokes and trying to get me to eat and drink. A really key thing for me was trying to get me to stay patient, and I think he did a fantastic job.”
Bae began the day a half-dozen shots behind Zhang, but that gap was cut in half when she birdied No. 2 and Zhang doubled No. 1. Almost just as quickly, the margin returned to six strokes as Bae doubled No. 3 and Zhang birdied No. 3. Bae steadied to par the next four holes as Zhang struggled with bogeys at No. 4, No. 5 and No. 7 before horn sounded to suspend play with a weather delay at 10:31.
At that point, the difference was back to three, with Zhang at 9-under and Bae at 6-under.
When play resumed at 1:50, Bae birdied No. 9 to close the gap to two. Another birdie at No. 13 brought Bae within one; however, Zhang followed with her own birdie at 13.
“To be honest I try to avoid looking at the leaderboard for a little over the first nine holes,” Bae said. “Then, I glanced back and saw that I was about a shot behind, and I was like ‘I can do this. Let’s get it.’ I think the last three or four holes when the roaring was so big, I realized I really had a good chance.”
As Bae surged, audible support of from University of Georgia fans could be heard following virtually every shot.
“It was great,” Bae said. “Left and right, all I hear is ‘Go Dawgs!’ and ‘Go UGA.!’ All that support, I really felt happy. I’ve never heard that much roaring before in my life. I think it will be the one moment in my life that I really cherish.”
A bogey by Zhang at No. 15 again brought Bae back within a stroke of the lead. She then hit her approach at No. 17 within a foot and converted the birdie to head to No. 18 tied atop the leaderboard. Both golfers parred No. 18, setting up the first playoff ever at the ANWA.
They returned to No. 18 and again made par before moving onto No. 10, where Bae’s approach went left of the green into pinestraw. Zhang eventually converted a tap-in par to secure the win.
“I had a great position, but I kinda of tugged it a little bit and it went left and past the green and into the bushes in the back,” Bae said. “It was really challenging. I couldn’t really take a backswing. My goal was to get it out there and hopefully trickle onto the green, and I think I just hit it a little too far. I tried my best, but Rose did a really great job. Hat’s off to her.”
Bae’s effort was a record-setting performance. She broke the ANWA record with 16 birdies over 54 holes, topping the tally of 15 by Maria Fassi in the inaugural tournament in 2019. Bae and Zhang’s 54-hole score of 9-under was a stroke off the tournament record of Jennifer Kupcho, also in established in 2019.
Bae becomes the fourth SEC golfer finished as runner-up in four editions of the tournament, joining Fassi from Arkansas in 2019 and both Ingrid Lindblad and Latanna Stone from LSU in 2022.
Bae’s finish in this year’s ANWA is the best ever by a Georgia golfer. Previously, Caterina Don tied for 12th in the inaugural tournament in 2019. All told, five Bulldogs have now competed in the ANWA seven times: Bae and signee Savannah de Bock, the 2022 European Ladies Amateur champion from Belgium, this year; Don in 2019 and 2021; and both Isabella Holpfer and Candice Mahé in 2021.
Bae and her Georgia teammates will return to action week after next when they compete in the SEC Championships at Greystone Golf and Country Club in Birmingham, Ala., on April 12-16 The tournament will begin with 54 holes of stroke play on Wednesday-Friday.